781.708.4445

wmlevine@levinedisputeresolution.com

Divorce Mediation Blog

DeMarco v. DeMarco: Three Surprising Things

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Three rarities --

    -- a “Hail Mary” pass that works,
    -- a trial court order that makes news, and
    -- a judge who takes the hit for a litigant --

-- all converge in Judge John D. Casey’s recent decision in De Marco v. De Marco, for the Suffolk Probate and Family Court, making it remarkable beyond its outcome.

Michael DeMarco asked Judge Casey to terminate his alimony obligation to Katherine DeMarco, under M.G.L., ch. 208, §49(f), the social security full retirement age provision of the Alimony Reform Act (eff. 3/1/12). The judge advised the parties at the start of trial that he believed the result to be foregone: that §49(f) applies to all cases, and therefore, DeMarco alimony would end. The attorneys adopted the court’s view and devised a surviving settlement agreement with a terminal lump sum payment, and the end of periodic alimony.

Then, the Supreme Judicial Court (SJC) decided to the contrary, in Chin v. Meriott and two companion cases, ruling that §49(f) applies prospectively only, to those alimony payors whose divorce judgments followed March 1, 2012. While it is fair to say that Judge Casey’s belief reflected a consensus view of the bench and bar at the time, the SJC proved it flawed. It is not the first time that an appellate court nixed a trial judge’s view of the law, and certainly won’t be the last. The law develops, accordingly.

What makes this case interesting is that:

  1. Ms. DeMarco, asked Judge Casey to vacate the judgment that arose from the parties’ settlement contract, by way of a motion under Mass. R. Dom. Rel. P. Rule 60 (b) (5) and (6), which is the Hail Mary pass of litigation. Vacating an established judgment by mere motion is a last resort relief for a litigant. Every veteran litigator has weighed the odds of bringing one against the chance of being assessed with fees for being wrong; many have taken their shot; and few have succeeded.
  2. Trial court divorce decisions are rarely noted outside of the parties themselves, and a bit of occasional gossip, especially motion practice. After all, it is appellate work that creates precedent, shaping the law, debate, future strategies and outcomes. Unusually, this case was the lead story in Massachusetts Lawyers Weekly, and the buzz persists.
  3. Judge Casey fell on his sword, where he could easily have demurred. He gave the parties honest direction, without any warranty of perfection. Ms. DeMarco did not have to accept the judge’s colloquy. She could have tried the case and forced Judge Casey to apply the law as he saw it; and then challenge him on appeal. Yet, the judge ruled that his was an incorrect interpretation of the statute, upon which Ms. DeMarco had “detrimentally relied”, and vitiated the judgment.

The fact that the judge allowed the Rule 60 to negate a contract of the parties, as distinguished from a judgment that he had, himself, written, is substantively remarkable – and potentially dangerous – as attorney David H. Lee (disclosure: Mr. Lee is William M. Levine’s former longtime law partner) pointed out in the Lawyers Weekly piece. Certainly, it is a challenge to the policy of finality. It is also understandable that Judge Casey, always a gentleman, felt responsible for the harsh result to Ms. DeMarco.

This was no simple “mulligan”, but one with combined factors that we won’t likely see again soon.



Get e-mail notifications of new blog posts! Enter email address below.:



Delivered by FeedBurner

other articles


recent posts


tags

Chouteau Levine family law arbitrators arbitration Massachusetts alimony divorce mediators Massachusetts Alimony Reform Act med/arb divorce litigation Self-adjusting alimony orders lawyer-attended mediation family and probate law disputes divorce lawyers alimony law DOMA pre-ARA alimony SJC support orders child support Family Law Arbitration divorce mediations family support Boston lawyers lawyer Massachusetts divorce lawyers Massachusetts divorce mediators divorce agreement Massachusetts alimony and child support The Seven Sins of Alimony divorced Same Sex Marriage MLB labor agreement rehabilitative alimony Obamacare Divorce General term alimony family law traditional negotiations Matrimonial Arbitration annulment alimony orders Levine Dispute Resolution special master facilitated negotiations family law arbitrator how baseball arbitration works Uniform Arbitration Act Massachusetts Lawyers Weekly fraud Divorce Agreements separation health coverage divorce arbitrator Levine Dispute Resolution Center LLC mediators disputes divorce arbitration Massachusetts lawyers Baseball Arbitration divorce judgment Defense of Marriage Act Levine Dispute Resolution Center Act Reforming Alimony in the Commonwealth private dispute resolution health insurance family law mediation divorce and family law mediators Massachusetts Major League Baseball Arbitration Alimony Reform Act alimony reform legislation divorce and family law med-arb arbitrators resolve disputes mediation alimony medical benefits arbitrator mediations LDRC IRC §2704 Baseball Players divorce mediator family mediation conciliation alimony statute COLA divorce arbitrators Levine Dispute Resolutions Child Support Guidelines Baseball litigation self-adjusting alimony divorce process high-risk methodology dispute resolution Cohabitation divorce mediation mediator